SARASOTA — Shawna Sims had to let her body do the talking.
Her health and her future as an elite rower depended on it.
The Sarasota Crew rower suffered a blood clot, which began in her left leg, traveled up her hip and ultimately resulted in a pulmonary embolism.
She didn’t think much of her injury, at first.
“I thought, ‘This isn’t a big deal,’” Sims says.
Sims spent nearly three weeks in the hospital, during which time doctors placed a stent in her hip. At that point, doctors told her she might not be able to row again because her rowing motion could weaken the stent in her hip.
At that point, the Venice High senior and Sarasota resident was forced to take a step back and reevaluate the situation.
“I didn’t believe them,” Sims says. “I knew I was going to do whatever it took to row again. I just had to listen to my body and get over it, and once I was healthy enough, I dove right in.”
Sims spent eight months of her sophomore year recovering from her injury and regaining her strength and cardiovascular fitness to be able to compete.
Sims returned to the water in spring 2012, and she hasn’t looked back since, having won multiple state championships while also competing in both the USRowing Youth National Championships and the World Rowing Junior Championships.
Most recently, Sims won the women’s single and varsity 8+ races at the Sarasota Invitational Feb. 22 and the varsity 8+ and the varsity 4+ races at the OARS Youth Invitational March 8.
Sims, who will row for the University of Virginia next year, will return to the water March 22 in a triple dual meet with Winter Park, Tampa Plant and the Bolles School, at Nathan Benderson Park.
“I don’t like sitting on the sidelines,” Sims says. “In a competitive sport like this, if you miss one practice you feel like you’re taking a step back. But I think maybe I progressed more knowing how hard it was to get better in the sport.
“If it weren’t for my hip, I don’t know if I would’ve reach the level that I’m at now,” Sims says. “It forced me to take a step back and refocus.”
Sims began rowing when she was in seventh grade, after watching her older sister, Shannon, delve into the sport. Sims joined the Sarasota Scullers, where she rowed for two years before moving over to the Sarasota Crew at the end of her freshman year.
“It was confusing at first learning the different strokes and what everything meant,” Sims says. “It’s interesting, though, because it takes a competitive side.”
During her freshman year, Sims moved from the freshman 8+ boat to the varsity 8+ boat in which she helped the Scullers win a gold medal at the 2011 FSRA State Championship.
Sims went on to win gold medals in the women’s lightweight 4+ at the 2011 Southeast Youth Championship and the 2011 USRowing Youth National Championships.
Sims realized she had found her calling.
“I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I have a future in this,’” Sims says.
Sims prioritizes her time between the varsity 8+ and singles races. Although she admits the varsity 8+ race is where her true passion lies.
“We all have to come together to make it go faster,” Sims says. “It’s a very powerful race. This is definitely a team-driven sport, and the (varsity) 8+ is very motivating.”
As a junior, Sims helped the Crew’s varsity 8+ boat win its B final at the national championships, posting the nation’s third-fastest time in 6 minutes, 47.98 seconds.
Following the national championships, Sims attended the USA selection camp where she was chosen to represent Team USA in the World Rowing Junior Championships in August in Lithuania. Sims won a silver medal in the 4x, crossing the finish line in 6:35.33 to finish second behind Italy (6:34.44).
The race was named Race of the Year after Team USA moved up from sixth place to second place in the race’s final 500 meters.
“It was an amazing experience,” Sims says. “Everyone was extremely motivated, and we all connected so well both on and off the water. We knew if we connected together we could pull it out and we did. It was an amazing race.”
Sims is no longer eligible for the World Rowing Junior Championships, but she has aspirations of trying to earn a spot on Team USA’s U23 team and furthering her goal of being an international rower.
Following her senior season, Sims will prepare to take her talents to Virginia. Sims signed with the Cavaliers in November. Sims decided she wanted to row in college last year after watching her sister go on to row at Duke University.
Now, Sims is eager to learn from a new group of girls and a program that is on the rise, having won team national championships in 2010 and 2012.
“I’m looking forward to more competition and be able to learn from the upperclassmen,” Sims says. “They have more experience and have more time (invested), so just to see where they’ve been and to learn from new coaches and teammates in a new environment.”
But first, Sims is looking to close out another successful season with the Crew — one she hopes will end with another national championship.
“We’re such a family and we have such a different subculture here,” Sims says. “I knew I was home when I went to be with the Sarasota Crew.
“I’ve learned so much; and I hope I’m remembered not only for my focus but my self motivation and helping other people be motivated and reach their full potential.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].